When I lived in Canada, there was a period of time when Lorraine (my late wife) and I had our business licenses for web development and piano/voice lessons. Because Lorraine was on ODSP (disability) and we were both on that check, we had to submit income reports to their office downtown at the end of each month. I would take the city bus down there to submit that one little paper with all the info and then come right back up to what Hamiltonians referred to as the “mountain.” It was actually just an escarpment, but to them, it seemed as tall as a mountain.
Anyways, it got to the point where I dreaded going down there because I began to feel an almost palpable darkness and evil just getting off the bus at the McNab terminal downtown. I would rush into the ODSP office building, get the paper submitted, and rush back to the terminal as fast as possible and catch the first bus back up the “mountain.” I eventually called and asked if they wouldn’t mind if I just faxed the report to them each month, which they said was fine.
The reason I mention this is because of all the times I have been the subject of a similar thought pattern for others. I remember all the times people would either avoid us, give us unsolicited advice for Lorraine’s health, or criticize us for not doing things the way they thought they would if they were in our position — and it got very draining. In retrospect, considering how alone I have felt many times since I moved to Utah County at the end of last year, that environment in downtown Hamilton came to mind… And I felt like perhaps I was too quick to want to get away from those people without understanding their why.
I have a very dear friend here with whom I got wires of communication crossed quite badly for a couple days. Yet when they were patient enough to dig a little deeper and learn more about what it means to have Asperger’s, to learn why I communicate the way I do, they were so much more understanding. It was quite a balm to hear them say things like, “I think I understand you better now” and “I’m so sorry you’re feeling so awful” or “Ohhh, I think I understand now.” It was like my soul could finally breathe again!
I wonder how many times I could have felt less oppressed by the environment in downtown Hamilton if I had stopped to find out why someone had an aura of this… almost… dementor-like draining energy about them. Maybe then I wouldn’t have wanted to get out of there so fast. Perhaps I would have actually wanted to stay longer to help them get out of that rut themselves.
At the moment, I don’t remember the exact wording to this quote, but I recall using it in a blog before (which I can’t find at the moment). It goes something like this: “You should never judge someone for their actions because you don’t know their story, and you certainly don’t know what other options they even had at the moment.”
Ask yourself that next time you see someone making a choice that is clearly wrong, “Yes, that choice is certainly wrong — but why are the making it? What other options do they think they have?” Perhaps every other choice they saw in that moment seemed way more painful than the one they made. Maybe their circumstances are so different from anything you would have supposed that even you would have likely made the same mistake had you been in their same situation.
I would never use this logic to suggest that we condone or tolerate sinful, unholy, or impure choices and practices. Certainly there is no exception to the Lord not being able to have the “least degree of allowance” for sin. However, the way we respond to people’s mistakes (including our own) would change drastically if we find out why people make the choices they do by getting down to that “chewy caramel center” of what makes them tick.
Most of the lessons Christ and His prophets taught were always followed up with the phrase “that they may…” or “that ye may…” For example, in 2 Nephi 1:22, 2 Nephi 10:25, Mosiah 18:9, Alma 34:24-25, 3 Nephi 17:3, 3 Nephi 27:20, D&C 45:72, and so many more places in the scriptures (like the sacrament prayers), we are told why the Lord commands us to do certain things. And if we truly understood why people makes some of the bad choices they do — I mean really understand the background behind each choice — it would be much easier to approach the problem the way Christ would and be a more effective instrument in His hands to help Him deliver that person from their sins and pain.
Just remember that the next time you think anything like “Oh, they should know better” or “There’s no excuse for that” or “If they had the gospel, they wouldn’t be make such dumb choices,” dig down to that caramel center and I almost guarantee you there will be come context you are missing that you couldn’t possibly get any other way. I know everyone who has ever done that for me has helped heal my soul immensely — and often their own as well in the process.
Give it a shot!
Paul served a mission in the then Canada Toronto West Mission and recently moved to Orem, Utah, after living for ten years with his late wife, Lorraine, in Hamilton Ontario before her passing in 2019. He loves missionary work, piano, blogging (you can find his personal blog here!), deep spiritual conversations with friends, and hosting his podcast, Stepping Into Freedom. He can solve a 5x5x5 Rubik's cube, and puts a lot of time into gospel scholarship.